Wednesday 31 May 2023

Peak Forest Canal. Huddersfield Narrow Canal. Bugsworth Basin to Diggle.

Before Anne and Andy turned up we drove to Lyme Park for spectacular parkrun. This one lap run is unique in having the finish at a higher altitude than the start, and every review we’d read about it made mentioned of 'The Hills'. So it was no surprise when, within 5 minutes of starting, both of us were reduced to wheezing walkers. The views from the Cage at the highest point make it worth the effort getting up there though.

Back at the boat, our visitors arrived and after much hugging we pulled the pins and chugged round to Whaley Bridge...

Pulling out of Bugsworth.

...where we tucked ourselves in at the end of the permanent moorings. We had a wander round the town, and then went up to Memorial Park for a look at the progress at Todbrook Reservoir. This is the reservoir that over topped the axillary spillway and very nearly burst its dam wall a couple of years ago, causing half of the town to be evacuated. Foxes Afloat did an excellent report about it which you can watch here.

The dam wall at Todbrook. the bit in the middle is the pile of 600 one tonne ballast bags that were dropped by the Chinook. The new spillway runs from right to left in the photo.

The aftermath of this event has had lasting consequences for other CRT reservoirs; their integrity and stability has been assessed and at least one that we’ve seen - Barrowford on the L&L - has been drained and work has started to reduce the height of, and strengthen, the dam walls. The work at Todbrook is quite impressive, with the new spillway nearing completion. Of course the severely reduced water supply to both the Peak Forest and the Macclesfield canals has forced CRT to put movement restrictions in place on the Marple and Bosley lock flights until the reservoir is refilled, so unfortunately, much as we’d have loved to, we couldn’t take Anne & Andy down Marple locks. Instead we did a short hop to Disley, and went to see what the open day at Roman Lakes was all about. It turned out to be fabulous. Yummy food and as singalong with the Stockport Ukulele Players.

Next morning we pulled Legend forward about 100 yards for a better view across the lovely Goyt valley with Kinder Scout in the distance, then went for a walk through Mosley Bottom nature reserve and Torr Vale, then along the amazing Millennium Walkway and up into New Mills for coffee.

The community hydro power plant at new mills, you can read about it here 

A lovely finish to a terrific weekend. Their other bit of news was that Andy’s lodger is moving out, leaving them with a spare room, so now we can go and stay with them in Bristol. Yipee!

Having spent the previous evening looking out at Kinder Scout, we thought it would be rude not to give it some closer inspection. So coffee and sarnies in the rucksack, boots on, and off we went over to Hayfield in the car, then up, up, up, past the reservoir...

...along the ridge to Kinder Downfall...

...following the Pennine Way to Kinder Low..

...and then back across to the car. It had been a while since we’d done a ‘proper’ walk, and we were tired, but very happy at the end of it.

Because of the restrictions, Marple locks were only open on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, so on the Wednesday we left Disley to be ready to go down the next morning. Although the canal was really quiet, we struck lucky with boats coming the other way at two of the moveable bridges, leaving Ann-Marie with just the push button lift bridge to operate. Jammy or what! At Marple there wasn’t anywhere deep enough to moor before the junction, so we pitched up on the top lock landing. Usually we wouldn't dream of committing such a cardinal sin, but as the locks ahead of us were padlocked and we were going down as soon as they opened we decided that on this occasion we'd be fine. That evening we went to the lovely little independently run Regent Cinema to see The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harrold Fry, which we thought was charming.

At 8:30 the next morning the lock keepers and volunteers turned up, the locks were unlocked and we were off down the flight. The top half of Marple locks are quite close together, so with CRT volunteer Garry setting ahead and closing up behind us we were down to Station Road in no time.

The bottom half is more spread out, but we passed 4 boats coming up, giving us an easy run and dropping down the whole flight of 16 locks in two hours.

Oh we’re slick!

We tied up at bridge 9 by Haughton Dale Nature reserve and walked into Romily where Dave found his new favourite BIG mug and we had a lovely cuppa in the really friendly community café. As we were going to be moored there for a few days we put the bird table up and within hours were treated to a visit by a Jay and a Nuthatch. And a squirrel.

On Coronation Day we thought it would be apt to visit Hyde Park for parkrun. 

We had a plan to do the run, and then go to ‘Spoons in Hyde for breakfast while watching the ceremony on a big screen telly. The run was very good, despite a sharp descent which was a bit slippy, and we both got good times, however, the rest of the plan turned to worms. When we’d searched for ‘Whetherspoon’s in Hyde’ Google came up with The Cotton Bale, which might have been a Whetherspoon’s once, but wasn’t any more and didn’t do what we wanted. So instead we got some breakfast bits in Aldi, and then went back to Legend to watch King Charles get his new hat with our own full English and all our bunting flapping in the breeze.

On the Sunday we cycled back to Hyde Park to help with marshalling the junior parkrun, then made up a picnic and cycled to Marple where we put the bikes in the car and drove to Marple Bridge for a ‘Big Lunch’ Coronation party at the cricket club. We had great afternoon in the sunshine with entertainment from a really good covers band, some delicious homemade ice cream and a new teapot from the bric-a-brac stall.

The next day was wet and drizzly and by the end of it Legend had come within range of the local bored teenagers’ radar, so it was time to move on. In the morning we pulled pins and headed off towards Dukinfield Junction. The bottom ends of both the Peak Forest and Huddersfield Narrow canals at Ashton-Under-Lyne are in stark contrast to lovely Marple. They’re scruffy and grim and there is rubbish everywhere. We got a tyre round the propeller as a going away present from the Peak Forest...

 then as soon as he’d cleared that, Dave was back down the weed hatch to clear a Sainsbury’s bag for life; a welcome gift from the Huddersfield. Lock 1 of the 74 that lay ahead was as stiff and heavy as a stiff and heavy thing on two-for-one stiff and heavy week, making the start of our venture onto New Water somewhat disappointing.

Dukinfield Junction.

The eastern end of the Huddersfield. New Water!

Lock 1 not giving us the best first impression.

However, 6 locks later as Legend quite literally rose up into Stalybridge’s lovely, vibrant town centre we were feeling a lot happier and excited to be navigating one of very few canals that we haven’t yet been on.

Restoration of this canal started in 1981 and was completed in 2001. The restored line through Stalybridge was finished in 2000 with several new bridges and moorings.

We tied up opposite Tesco and stayed for three nights.

Having the carpark right next to the boat meant we could tranship a lot of our roof-tat into the boot. We needed to go low profile for our impending passage through the notoriously low and lumpy Standedge tunnel, so the more we could get off the better.

Ann-Marie had been given two tickets to see a pre-release screening of ‘Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret’ which was showing at the cinema in the Trafford Centre in Manchester, so we had a Grand Day Out. The last time we’d been there we’d been outside John Lewis, interviewing shoppers 8 weeks before Christmas; this was much nicer with treats from Starbucks and Selfridges before the film, then huge cinnamon buns to take home afterwards. What a glorious life we have!

We did three more moves on the way up to the tunnel, stopping a Roaches lock where the sun and the paddleboards came out and Dave got the big boat pole, the keb* and the boat hook painted and oiled.

From there we went on to Uppermill, it was quite shallow in places going up and impossible to get into the side even at lock landings, so Ann-Marie hardly got any time on the boat and pretty much walked the whole way up. Legend grounded just before Uppermill, but Dave managed to pole it back into deeper water and got going again. We really liked Uppermill. We moored by the stepping stones over the river and had some very pleasant chats with the passers-by.

From there we went up the final and steepest bit of the western Huddersfield to Diggle giving us two days to sort ourselves out before our tunnel booking. As we were leaving lock 24 the low water level in the pound above left Legend stuck on the top cill; a potentially dangerous position to be in. If the low pound is a result of a leaky bottom gate the boat can tip backwards as the water drains out of the lock. Thankfully, this one was the result of the water escaping from the pound by other means, and Dave managed to reverse back in and shut the gate. We phoned CRT who contacted the local team working the flight and within minutes a lock keeper came down to give us a hand.

“Hello” we said.

“I hate this bloody lock!” he cheerfully replied, then quickly sent some more water down from the two pounds above to set us free. It was still a bottom dragging push across the pound, but Legend bravely carried on up to the top of the flight where we squeezed in on the visitor moorings outside Warth Mill.

We really felt on top of the world at up there. Ahead of us was the portal to the hands-down Top Trump winner of tunnel facts. Standedge is the longest, highest and deepest canal tunnel in the country. It also wins on a few less impressive facts as well by being the wettest with cascades of water coming down the air shafts, the lumpiest with a good portion of the roof being bare, blasted rock, and the twistiest. As well as lots of smaller wiggles there is a large S bend, the result of a 25’ deviation from the plotted course which was only discovered when the two ends of the tunnel met.

Moored ahead of us was Nb Summer Wine and Anita, who had come through the tunnel the day before. She was single handed and heading for Lyme View marina, the reverse of our journey, so we were able to give her a few tips on moorings and places to go. She, in turn gave us plenty of pointers about our descent down the eastern locks and the journey through Huddersfield to the Calder and Hebble. The next morning we noticed her setting off down the locks, so we grabbed a couple of windlii and went to give her a hand.

She’d already got a CRT volunteer assisting her, so between us we had her down to Uppermill by lunch time. The pound between 24 and 25 was still low; we had to flush Summer Wine out of 25 where she was sitting on the bottom, and then leave the water running until she’d crossed the pound and cleared the top cill on 24. Anita was very appreciative of our assistance and we were happy to have been able to help. Everything is at least four times harder for single handers, and the Huddersfield, despite being breathtakingly beautiful, is a particularly unforgiving canal. After that we took our car over to the other end of the tunnel at Marsden and walked back over the lovely Marsden Moor.

We went to bed that night excited about what lay ahead, but quite apprehensive as well. Standedge has a reputation for biting back and very few boats get to the other end unscathed. However it was the only tunnel in the country that we hadn’t taken Legend through, and our prime objective for the last twelve years has been to “do” the whole navigable system. We’d been through all the other tunnels in the country, some several times. Had we saved the best till last?

* What’s a keb? It’s commonly known as a manure fork and has been used in stables for centuries, but in the horse boating days it found a second home on a boat roof as a very handy tool for clearing rubbish and weeds from the canal, especially from behind lock gates.

Friday 19 May 2023

Macclesfield Canal. Peak Forest Canal. Bollington To Bugswoth Basin.

After spending a winter under the trees Legend was looking decidedly grubby, so while we were moored on Bollington Aqueduct Dave’s first job was to clean up the port side and scrub the gunnels. They’re looking a bit faded (who’s idea was it to paint them red?) so they’ve gone on the ‘to do’ list, along with painting Legend’s name on the back panel. We’ve been incognito since October when we repainted the front end while we were in dry dock, and it’s surprising how much we don’t like not having a name on our boat. We feel like we’re trying to hide something.

While we were there, Dave agreed to do one last coal run, this time on Nb Halsall. He spent the day crewing for Rachel on the Trent & Mersey from Trentham through Stone to Great Heywood.

A coal boat version of a drive through!

Very enjoyable and very nice to spend a bit of time with Rachel, but hard graft. We clearly need to move a bit further away!

Whiteley Green was our next stop. Before we moved we took our car into Norman’s Motors in Macclesfield who Brian had recommended to have a new front shock absorber fitted. After an altercation with a pothole in January the top of the strut had popped out of the wing and Dave didn’t have any means of doing it himself.

Andrew had it sorted by the next morning and was very reasonable. He gets a five star recommendation from us.

From the aqueduct we moved on to Whiteley Green for the full 14 days, although we weren’t on board for most of it. Dave was back out on site in Ireland for the whole fortnight, and Ann-Marie joined him for the second week after Easter. The day after she’d dropped him off for his flight, Ann-Marie discovered that windscreen wipers weren’t working. There was a bit of panic, and a phone call to Norman’s Motors, who came straight out to her and apologised for forgetting to “plug them back in.” Maybe four and a half stars then.   

Over in Ireland, Shandy was now full time basic training for the NI Fire Service, so only able to help at weekends. Chloe, despite working and from home, looking after the kids, driving to the builders merchant and the tip, and providing endless cups of coffee, still managed to get out on site to help a lot, but the list of jobs that needed finishing before the final concrete pour was quite daunting. During the first week we got the re-bar lintels over the sun room and living room windows ready, then Gerry the bricklayer came along and built the fireplace and chimney, and helped put the big RSJ into place for the kitchen window.

However, the biggest challenge was building the five gables. That took a lot longer than we’d reckoned; the higher we went the slower it got. All the bracing had to be moved up a level, with a second tier of scaffolding planks on top, all the panels and webs had to be lifted up twice, and all the angles had to be marked, taken down and cut, then taken back up again. On Easter Monday, between them Dave, Shandy and Gerry hoisted some of the trusses up into place to act as guides for marking the gable angles, and Dave made a
 cutting jig to use with the circular saw. That made a much neater and more accurate job of it, but it was still slow and tedious.

By then, much to the children’s delight, Ann-Marie had flown in like Mary Poppins, and Chloe could spend more time on site. The weather didn’t help with wind and rain hampering the operation, but they eventually got it all ready for the final concrete pour.

We gave ourselves a day off on the final Saturday and took the kids to the circus, followed by dinner at Mo’s Grill. All great fun and good to be able to relax a bit amid all the stress.

Back home, we moved up to Higher Poynton for a few days. Ann Marie came over from the wharf with wool and a crochet hook for a ‘crafty day’ on board Legend; it was really good for the girls to spend time together without being at work.

As we were close, we took a picnic over the valley to Lyme Park NT. Walking over there we saw our first ducklings of the year, and then had a lovely time walking round the gardens with all the spring bulbs coming out. We had a very interesting guided tour round the Butler and Housekeeper areas, then walked back home past the Cage hunting lodge.

On the Saturday morning we put the bikes in the car and drove to Marple Bridge where we did our first parkrun for a month at Brabyns Park. 

Afterwards we found a fabulous looking coffee shop called Libby’s and went in for a post run croissant. Lots of other runners were in there as well; unsurprising as it was delicious!

We left the car in Marple and cycled back to the boat. There was a three boat queue for the water point at Poynton, so we had lunch while we waited, then moved up to Hawk Green. We had planned to go a bit further, but there were some lambs in the field opposite, so our world stopped for a couple of days while we watched them boinging about.

We did manage to tear ourselves away from the lambykins to go for a walk over the hill to the Peak Forest canal and then along the Goyt valley to Roman Bridge.  On the way we saw a sign for an open day at the Roman Lakes Leisure Park tea rooms. We’d heard good things about them, so we put it in the diary. We popped into Marple on the way back and almost fell over the Scouts and Guides St Georges Day Parade. We’d completely forgotten what day it was and poor Legend was buntingless!

In the morning the forecast was for rain later, so we did an early two mile hop round Marple Junction and onto the Peak Forest to Strines, and then moved the car to Furness Vale. Walking back we popped in on Kate and David who live at New Mills on Nb Bosley. We first met them on the Lancaster canal more than ten years ago, so it was fabulous to catch up over a cuppa.

A couple of days later we’d moored up Furness Vale and had all our ducks in a clichĂ©, ready for a road trip south. Dave had a routine blood test booked in Camberley and we’d managed to get our dentist check-ups on the same day. We were up and on the road to Southam before 9, then after an all clear at the dentist, back in the car to Whitchurch for a cuppa and a catch up with Coops, before carrying on to Camberley.  Karen put us up for the night and we nipped over to Fleet to see Mum and Dad before the long drive back home. We do like getting the most value out of every drop of diesel!

The last time we were up this way Bugsworth Basin was drained for repairs and we couldn’t get there, so the trip down one of the two ends of the Peak Forest was New Water for Legend. Dave had been down there several times on Alton delivering fuel, so he’d picked out his favourite spot and neatly backed into the secluded middle basin.

Legend was finally the other way round so he could get the starboard side cleaned and scrubbed. Meanwhile Ann-Marie was sorting out the inside ready for our visitors. Anne and Andy were coming to stay and it was ages since we’d seen them. We were very much looking forward to sharing Bugsworth, Whaley Bridge and all the stunning countryside of the High Peak with them.

New Haw Lock to Boveney. River Wey. River Thames.

After pulling the pins at New Haw we dropped down the last four locks on the Wey... Cox's Mill Lock Town Lock The final stretch of the W...